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Design

The Optio 550 has a fairly traditional compact camera appearance, some nice touches include the brushed metal front and stylized chrome apostrophe around the lens barrel. Around at the back of the camera is a good space for your thumb which rests naturally against the zoom controller, all other controls are found on the left. When you first pick up the 550 you realize that the shape of the chrome 'apostrophe' is designed to hook your middle finger and assist grip. The camera feels solid and fairly well put together, there are no creaks or rattles.

Side by side

Below is the Optio 550 beside Olympus's C-50 Zoom. As you can see both are fairly similar in size (and also weight), the main difference is the C-50 Zoom's three times optical zoom versus the Optio 550's five times optical zoom. From a size point of view the Optio 550 is notably smaller than some of the other prosumer competition (such as Canon's PowerShot G3) but about the same as some other five megapixel compact digital cameras.

In your hand

As mentioned above the natural fit of your thumb on the rear of the camera and the shape of the chrome 'apostrophe' surround on the front of the Optio 550 is supposed to make gripping the camera easier, unfortunately a camera of this weight really could do with either something at the back to provide thumb grip or a front hand grip.


LCD Monitor

The Optio 550 has a 1.5" TFT LCD monitor, it's bright and detailed and has an anti-reflective coating which means that even in bright sunlight the screen image should still be visible. The LCD monitor provides 98% frame coverage in shooting mode and 100% in play mode.


Viewfinder

The Optio 550 has a standard 'optical tunnel' type viewfinder, the view through it is like looking down a square shaped paper tube. There are no focus area or center of frame indicators nor are their parallax correction lines for closer shooting. This viewfinder would be fine for occasional snapshots but not for correct framing which must be done using the LCD monitor. The viewfinder offers just 85% frame coverage.

The two lights beside the viewfinder indicate the following:

Green Steady Good AF Lock
Green Flashing Can not AF Lock
Red Steady Flash is charged, will be used for next shot
Red Flashing Flash charging
Green & Red Flashing Writing image to SD / MMC card


Battery & Storage Compartment

In the base of the Optio 550 is the shared battery and storage compartment. Open the door by simply sliding it forwards, inside you will find an SD/MMC slot and directly behind this the battery slot. The battery is held in place with a small catch, the storage card is a press click-in, press click-out type. The Optio 550's battery has an impressive capacity of 1800 mAh at 3.7 V, considerably more than any similar Lithium-Ion digital camera battery, and that advantage was seen in our battery life test (later in this review).


Battery Charger

Supplied with the Optio 550 is the D-BC7 battery charger, its design incorporates a battery slot in the top of the charger unit, meaning you must remove the battery from the camera to charge. A full charge from flat takes approximately 3 hours (thus a 600 mA charge rate).

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